Pop quiz! How many teeth do rabbits have? 2? 4? 6? Believe it or not, rabbits have 28 teeth. That’s a lot of chompers for a bunny to keep in working order! They only like to show us the four incisors; two on the top and two on the bottom. These are the veggie slicers. 🦷🦷 Rabbits then have two bonus “peg teeth” behind the upper two, as well as 6 upper premolars, 6 upper molars, 4 lower premolars, and 6 lower molars. This is where the real magic happens. These 22 secret back teeth (“cheek teeth”) have a big job to do, but can sometimes cause your rabbit tooth problems.
Causes of Dental Issues in Rabbits
According to Chabot Veterinary Hospital’s Carolynn Harvey, DVM, “Problems that often occur in the oral cavity include malocclusion of incisors, split or broken teeth, points or spurs on cheek teeth, foreign bodies, abscesses, and tooth root and/or bone infection. Early detection is often crucial to the outcome of these problems.” Due to poor tooth wear, the molars can get too long and curve painfully into the cheek or tongue. The overgrown teeth can also start to hit each other and lead to inflammation around the tooth roots. This can result in unpleasant infection and hard-to-treat abscesses.
Just like your high school nemesis, some rabbits humbly have perfect chompers. They can get away with being hay snobs and never have a lick of trouble. Maybe they snack on four-leaf clover? Other rabbits, even with the best of care, aren’t as fortunate. This is because dental issues can be hereditary. Maybe the rabbit you adopted didn’t get enough hay in the past and it’s catching up to him, or maybe he just didn’t get the good genes. Injury, change in jaw formation, and bone disease can also cause dental problems.
Symptoms of Tooth Problems in Rabbits
Sometimes the first sign of a rabbit tooth problem is just a funny feeling. You know the one. Is your rabbit moodier than usual or more reclusive? Dental disease can be painful. Your rabbit may start to lose weight if eating becomes too painful or difficult. He may also begin drooling and you’ll start noticing a perma-stinky, wet chin from slobbering. Your rabbit may seem hungry, but then fail to actually eat. He might start preferring softer foods to harder foods or put morsels in his mouth just to spit them out. Sometimes, rabbits will even have obvious swelling and lumps around the jaw or discharge from the eye(s).
The front teeth may start to meet at an unusual angle or wear diagonally. Most cases of incisor malocclusion are congenital and show up in younger rabbit. Incisor changes can signify there is a problem with the back teeth, however, much more common in older rabbits or those without proper access to hay.
How to Treat Misbehaving Cheek Teeth
Even with the help of an otoscope, the molars can be tricky to examine. In some cases, your vet may need the help of X-ray or anesthesia to get a true picture of what’s going on with the back teeth. If your vet finds the molars are too long, she can use a special drill to trim them. A good vet can also adjust the angle the teeth are growing to allow them to meet better and decrease the time between visits. Setting the pesky buggers up for success, if you will.
Dental work should be done under gas anesthesia. Rabbits won’t open wide to allow for proper access to their secret toofies. Even if they did, the procedure would be too stressful and potentially painful in most cases. Don’t worry, an experienced exotic vet can usually get the job done pretty quickly and will send you home with a few days of bunny-safe pain meds.
Unfortunately, once dental problems in rabbits are present, the teeth are unlikely to return to normal. Regular dentist trips might be a lifelong part of your rabbit’s monthly routine. Some rabbits will need pro dental work once in a blue moon, others as often as every few weeks. While a little extra syringe feeding may be needed in the few days leading up to and following treatment, rabbits can still go on to live otherwise healthy, normal lives.
Plenty of Hay Keeps the Doctor Away
Like other animals that feast solely on high-fiber vegetation, rabbits’ teeth grow continuously. In the wild, rabbits eat grass, weeds, leaves, twigs, herbs, flowers, bark, etc. These super tough foods wear down the teeth with every meal, so their ever-growing teeth adapted accordingly. In fact, rabbits’ teeth can grow 12 cm per year! This is why it’s super important that your rabbit’s diet should be at least 80% hay. The long-strand fiber and side-to-side jaw action used when eating hay is necessary for dental and gut health.
Nothing wears down the cheek teeth like hay does. Although quality pelleted rabbit food contains Timothy hay as the #1 ingredient, it can’t replicate the sandpaper effect hay has on the teeth.
Grass takes silica from the soil and uses it to build jagged little structures called phytoliths. This creates a rough surface, which is much more effective for dental maintenance than hard foods (sorry, crunchy celery, this is not your time to shine).
Your bun should have big piles, about the size of his body, available for chowing down at all times. If your rabbit isn’t as interested as he should be in hay, try sprinkling some fragrant herbs in the hay pile to entice him. You can try different cuts of rabbit hay or other types like oat or orchard. You can also incorporate hay into fun activities. Stuff hay into a willow ball or hanging toilet paper roll to peak interest.
Play and health unite!
What Kind of Hay Does Your Rabbit Need? ⬇️⬇️
Types of Hay, Explained
We know the different types of hay can be confusing, from 2nd cutting Timothy hay to alfalfa hay and everywhere in between. At Small Pet Select, we know exactly which hay your small animal needs to stay happy and healthy.
Below, you’ll find all of the types of hay we offer. Hay is categorized by its uses, amount of stem and leaf, and levels of protein, fiber, and fat. Understanding each type is super beneficial for your pet, so let’s cover the basics.